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Lippert v. Baldwin

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

April 28, 2017

DON LIPPERT, et al, Plaintiffs,
JOHN BALDWIN, et al, Defendants.


          JORGE L. ALONSO United States District Judge

         Before the Court is plaintiffs' motion for class certification [394]. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted.


         This is a putative class action alleging that the health care provided to incarcerated individuals in the Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”) violates constitutional standards. Plaintiffs seek injunctive relief barring unconstitutional practices and requiring defendants to submit and implement a plan to address violations. A court-appointed medical expert, Dr. Ronald Shansky, has conducted an investigation and issued a final report [339].[1]


         “To certify a class, a district court must find that each requirement of Rule 23(a) (numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation) is satisfied as well as one subsection of Rule 23(b).” Harper v. Sheriff of Cook Cty., 581 F.3d 511, 513 (7th Cir. 2009). “Plaintiffs bear the burden of showing that a proposed class satisfies the Rule 23 requirements . . . by a preponderance of the evidence.” Messner v. Northshore Univ. Health Sys., 669 F.3d 802, 811 (7th Cir. 2012). “Failure to meet any of the Rule's requirements precludes class certification.” Arreola v. Godinez, 546 F.3d 788, 794 (7th Cir. 2008).


         Plaintiffs seek to certify a class of “all prisoners in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections with serious medical or dental needs.” (Pls.' Mem. at 4.)


         “An implied requirement of Rule 23(a) dictates that the plaintiffs' proposed class definition be ‘sufficiently definite that its members are ascertainable.'” Holmes v. Godinez, 311 F.R.D. 177, 213 (N.D. Ill. 2015) (quoting Jamie S. v. Milwaukee Pub. Schs., 668 F.3d 481, 493 (7th Cir. 2012)). To satisfy this requirement, plaintiffs “must define the class with reference to ‘objective criteria' and propose ‘a reliable and administratively feasible mechanism for determining whether putative class members fall within the class definition.'” Id. (quoting Jenkins v. White Castle Mgmt. Co., 12 C 7273, 2015 WL 832409, at *5 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 25, 2015)). “[A] class of unidentified but potentially . . . eligible . . . [individuals] is inherently too indefinite to be certified.” Jamie S., 668 F.3d at 496.

         Defendants argue that plaintiffs' proposed class lacks the definiteness required for certification, contending that there is “no objective, administratively feasible way to determine which inmates have serious medical or dental needs” and that they do not maintain a master list of inmates with serious medical or dental needs. (Defs.' Resp. at 26-27.) Defendants also contend that plaintiffs do not have standing to sue because they have received proper medical treatment. (Id. at 27.) Plaintiffs counter that the class is plainly identifiable-inmates with diagnosed medical or dental needs-and that defendants' own records “list thousands of prisoners diagnosed as needing medical or dental treatment.” (Pls.' Mem. at 4-5; Pls.' Reply at 7.)[2] Plaintiffs further contend that the Seventh Circuit has rejected a heightened ascertainability standard and that there are adequate records to identify class members. (Pls.' Reply at 25-26.) Finally, plaintiffs assert that defendants wrongly insist that this case is about inmates who have suffered past harm. (Id. at 27.) Plaintiffs emphasize that they are seeking injunctive relief from future harm for which they (and class members) are at risk because of defendants' flawed healthcare system. (Id.)

         For purposes of the Eighth Amendment, “[a] serious medical condition is one that has been diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment or one that is so obvious that even a lay person would perceive the need for a doctor's attention.” Greeno v. Daley, 414 F.3d 645, 653 (7th Cir. 2005). Contrary to defendants' assertions, the Court finds several documents attached as exhibits to the briefs that can serve as “objective, administratively feasible way[s] to determine which inmates have serious medical or dental needs.” For example, Menard's “Monthly Quality Improvement Meeting Agenda” dated October 27, 2015 is attached as Exhibit 4 to plaintiffs' memorandum in support of its motion for class certification. Therein, objective measures of inmates' health for September 2015 are delineated as follows: nine inmates visited the ER, six were hospitalized, sixty had their cases brought to the collegial review board, thirteen had outpatient surgery, thirty-five had initial or follow-up consults, nine had CTs or MRIs, two had dental surgery, three died, eleven had new diagnoses, forty-two were admitted to the infirmary, forty were injured, and over fifteen hundred were enrolled in chronic clinics. (Pls.' Mem. Ex. 4 IDOC Update 002331-41.) The last page of the agenda indicates that the next meeting was scheduled for November 30, 2015, and that the report had been prepared by Annette Rodgers, Medical Records Supervisor. (Id. at 002348.) On its face, this report demonstrates that defendants have lists (apart from inmates' individual medical files) indicating which inmates requested and/or received treatment, presumably for serious medical conditions. Even if such records did not exist, requiring a review of individual medical files would not preclude class certification. See Moreno v. Napolitano, Case No. 11 C 5452, 2014 WL 4911938, at *6 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 30, 2014) (“[T]he necessity of manually reviewing [tens of thousands of] forms does not preclude certification of the class.”). The Court also rejects defendants' standing argument because the Supreme Court has held that “the Eighth Amendment protects against future harms to inmates” and a “remedy for unsafe conditions need not await a tragic event.” Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 33 (1993); see also Henderson v. Sheahan, 196 F.3d 839, 846-47 (7th Cir. 1999) (“[T]he Eighth Amendment protects prisoners not only from a prison['s] . . . deliberate indifference to a prisoner's current serious health problems, but also from . . . deliberate indifference to conditions posing an unreasonable risk of serious damage to the prisoner's future health.”). Accordingly, the Court finds that plaintiffs' class is ascertainable.

         Rule 23(a)


         A class may be certified if it is “so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a)(1). Plaintiff argues that numerosity is easily satisfied here because the proposed class has thousands of members. (Pls.' Mem. at 5.) As of August 2015, IDOC housed 47, 000 prisoners, thousands of whom are afflicted with serious health conditions. (Id. at 5-6; Exs. 2 & 4.) Defendants confirm these numbers. (Defs.' Resp. at 1.) The Court finds that plaintiffs therefore meet the numerosity requirement. See Streeter v. Sheriff of Cook Cty., 256 F.R.D. 609, 612 (N.D. Ill. 2009) (finding that the numerosity requirement was met when plaintiffs submitted evidence demonstrating the proposed class consisted of “at least several thousand members”).


         To meet the commonality requirement, plaintiffs must show there are “questions of law or fact common to the class.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a)(2). “Commonality requires the plaintiff[s] to demonstrate that the class members have ‘suffered the same injury.'” Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 131 S.Ct. 2541, 2551 (2011) (quoting Gen. Tel. Co. of Sw. v. Falcon, 457 U.S. 147, 157 (1982)). “The class ‘claims must depend upon a common contention, ' and ‘[t]hat common contention, moreover, must be of such a nature that it is capable of classwide resolution-which means that determination of its truth or falsity will resolve an issue that is central to the validity of each one of the claims in one stroke.'” Jamie S., 668 F.3d at 497 (quoting Gen. Tel. Co., 457 U.S. at 157). “Where the same conduct or practice by the same defendant gives rise to the same kind of claims from all class members, there is a common question.” Suchanek v. Sturm Foods, Inc., 764 F.3d 750, 756 (7th Cir. 2014).

         Plaintiffs assert Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment challenges to defendants' system-wide policies and practices that allegedly deprive all proposed class members of access to adequate healthcare and put them at risk for harm. (Pls.' Mem. at 7.) They argue that the prospect of common answers regarding systemic deficiencies in IDOC's healthcare system that create a risk of harm for all class members satisfies the commonality requirement. (Id.) Plaintiffs contend that courts routinely find commonality and certify classes seeking injunctive relief to address unconstitutional prison conditions, including inadequate healthcare, where prisoners allege system-wide practices or failures that result in constitutional violations. (Id. at 8.) Plaintiffs allege nine IDOC policies and practices, laid out in detail in the expert report, that commonly affect the class. (Id. at 9-20; 4th Am. Compl. ¶¶ 15, 21-104.) These policies and practices include:

1) chronically failing to fill medical leadership and other medical staff vacancies (See, e.g., Pls.' Reply Ex. 3C Pattison Dep. at 46, 57-58; Id. Ex. 3E Ruffin Dep. at 156-160.);[3]
2) routinely permitting under-qualified medical professionals to treat prisoners (See, e.g., Pls.' Mem. Ex. 27 Ruffin Decl. ¶ 4.);[4]
3) failing to timely identify medical problems at reception and intrasystem transfer (See, e.g., Pls.' Mem. Ex. 25 Martin Decl. ¶ 9; Pattison Dep. at 29-30.);[5]
4) failing to manage chronic diseases (See, e.g., Pls.' Mem. Ex. 22 Lippert Dep. at 28; Id. Ex. 26 Rice Decl. ¶¶ 2-13; Id. Ex. 28 Thomas Decl. ¶¶ 7, 10-16.);[6]
5) failing to promulgate appropriate infirmary policies (See, e.g., Martin Decl. ¶¶ 10-12.);[7]
6) delaying and denying specialty care (See, e.g., Pls.' Mem. Ex. 23 Pattison Decl. ¶¶ 4-6, 8-11, 13-16; Martin Decl. ¶ 6; Rice Decl. ¶¶ 15, 17; Ruffin Decl. ¶¶ 4, 6-9; Thomas Decl. ¶¶ 6, 8.);[8]
7) poor recordkeeping, resulting in inadequate and incomplete files (See, e.g., Rice Decl. ΒΆ 19; Pls.' Reply Ex. ...

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